Trust considering asking volunteers to drive ambulances to cope with winter pressures
The region's ambulance trust has floated the idea of asking volunteers to drive ambulances to help cope with winter pressures, it can be revealed.
East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) faced unprecedented demand last winter, with more than 3,200 calls answered every day.
And in a bid to stop a repeat this winter, bosses have asked community first responder (CFR) volunteers whether they would be prepared to drive ambulances in 'very early discussions' on how they could be utilised.
CFRs respond to local emergency calls and provide life saving first aid in those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives.
In an internal email, seen by this newspaper, CFR coordinators were asked for feedback on 'supporting double staffed ambulances and attending low acuity patients where the CFR could then potentially drive qualified crew members and patient' to a hospital or care home.
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The email also asked whether volunteers would be interested in attending calls to patients who had fallen but were not injured.
Speaking to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), one senior paramedic who wished to remain anonymous, said: 'Does it pose a risk to patient safety? Without a doubt. What happens if the patient suddenly deteriorates and needs to be blue lighted to hospital?
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'The paramedic in the back can't do it. They need to be attending the patient. The staff are very against it. As a paramedic you want to be working with someone who is qualified and knows what they are doing.
'I have never heard anything like this in all my years. CFRs fulfil a very important role in their respective communities, but they should be there in their communities, not on frontline ambulances.'
The use of volunteers to drive ambulances is thought to be common place in countries such as Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.
Suggestion was also made in the HSJ that the trust would look to bring in the military to support staff over the winter.
But it is believed this referred to the Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) Protocol, which can kick in in times of crisis.
The spokesman added: 'While it is well known that readiness protocols like this exist in the event of extreme circumstances, this is not at all reflective of current planning arrangements.'